Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The snooze award goes to the poet Louise Glück. How this Pulitzer prize-winner reached the heights she has is a mystery on par with missing planes in a certain northeastern region of the Caribbean or how the ancient Egyptians managed to lift tons of stone in desert heat to construct, without mortar, structures that have lasted centuries. Glück also won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Academy of American Poets Prize, numerous Guggenheim fellowships, and was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States (2003-2004). It may be that she is an award-winner because her poetry is such a non-issue. It offends no one, possesses no memorable lines, does nothing to re-invent the language, and uses the most prosaic, flat language imaginable. It lumbers in a boring fog. I stumbled across this excerpt from one of her poems at the Poetry Foundation Web site.


On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,
the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes
and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer
and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones
leaping off  the high rocks ,  bodies crowding the water.

The nights were humid, still. The stone was cool and wet,
marble for  graveyards, for buildings that we never saw,
buildings in cities far away.

On cloudy nights, you were blind. Those nights the rocks were dangerous,
but in another way it was all dangerous, that was what we were after.
The summer started. Then the boys and girls began to pair off
but always there were a few left at the end , sometimes they’d keep watch,
sometimes they’d pretend to go off  with each other like the rest,
but what could they do there, in the woods? No one wanted to be them.
But they’d show up anyway, as though some night their luck would change,
fate would be a different fate. . .

Emotion recollected in tranquility? Wordsworth must not have meant for his prescription to result in a state of catatonia. When compared with the poetry of someone writing at the level of Anne Sexton it becomes clearer how Glück is just riffing. Sexton used enjambment to create momentum or stop it, interesting or shocking imagery, abrupt shifts in tense and perspective, and touched upon universal themes that resonate in the imagination. Writers like John Ashbery also churn out consistently surprising lines that take the reader someplace unexpected. His diction is like watching fireworks in a barely remembered dream. The laxness of Glück’s lines don’t give the reader the impression that the poem necessarily even requires any line breaks. It could exist just as easily as a block of prose. The experience she points to isn’t overly sentimental, which is the main fault of most bad writing, but she provides annoying over-direction. Poets like Pierre Reverdy knew that the human mind is able to make many unseen connections when presented with an outline with lines missing. Poets like Glück provide too much information. Poems are objects that shouldn’t explain themselves. The narrative aspect of poems like this override what poetry is. Poetry is figurative language that uses techniques like parataxis, metaphor, rhythm, enjambment, alliteration, imagery, apostrophe, personification, allusion, and other elements to give language a spatial quality. Poetry isn’t the medium used to convey information. That’s why we have newspapers.


Steve Halle said...

In a moment of naivety, I tried to read The Wild Iris. Midway through the book, I began to choke myself from boredom and rage. I almost didn't make it! After seven months convalescence, I made a full recovery, and needless to say, I've not gone near Louise Gluck or her poetry since...

Larry Sawyer said...

Glück is totally wack.